thumbnail of Special of the week; Issue 44-70
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week from Yale University from its series called Yale reports teaching English literature may seem to be a cloistered kind of life filled with the calm of books and a ready made audience of students for Leslie Fiedler However his position as a professor of English at the University of Buffalo is filled with contradictions. It is he says a paradox sometimes downright hypocritical because he asks for himself the privileged position of being able to teach prophets of rebellion and yet worries when his paycheck isn't on time. Mr. Fiedler speaks about teaching students and books with Richard W. B Lewis a professor of English and American studies at Yale. They met Mr. Lewis a study in Calhoun college at Yale. When asked are there any special problems in teaching about authors long since dead. Mr. THIEL replied. So here I was teaching Dante. It's a monopoly of a reasonable example. But when I was talking about the Divine Comedy I was raising
issues which in some ways are more important than the issues of how one deals with the debtor or how one treats it is to say I was posing the question I thought. Helping to make clear the fact that Dottie was posing the question What after all is the end of life is a life lived so that Matt can move in pursuit of the most of the ends which most of our world has been pursuing for a long time now. Or is the end of life finally vision. What is the meaning of the metaphor of the journey or the voyage or the pilgrimage or the trip coming to an understanding of the way consciousness develops or leaps in the world. Because again the question which is preferable the active life or the contemplative of our life these are the very fundamental questions and even as far as Dickens is concerned the point that has to be made is OK we live past the immediate social issues which he's dealing with we've solved them in various ways. But what the profound questions which he asked is you know finally I was doing a very simple minded thing with
my students things which is I was trying to suggest to him that what Dickens's saying to people is when you confront a particular kind of basic injustice which seems to be built in most kinds of into most kinds of human societies are you man enough or woman enough to weep. I see Dickens as a defender of sentimentality against the responses of iron a chance just a kid detachment checked it with the wrong thing and you know in the time we live in which I think it's a time when we're beginning to appreciate again the real revolutionary power sentimentality. It's good kind of literature. You talk I wonder about about the students themselves though also both in regard to sentimentality and other things just for example dealing with the scarlet letter in a class Hawthorne's in Scotland in a class here a few weeks ago I. Paused and said What. Does anybody here believe in sentence which that book alleges to be concerned with because not a single member of the class believed that the
word meant anything. As the theological term anyway so I was trying to find out what goes on in your mind when you read a book with a great deal of talk about sin and my impression is. That. A majority of the students read unreflecting way and this is a 19th century book a means to talk about sin and the 19th century. We don't do that anymore so in a sense it's got nothing to do with anything. You know one of the first things I always discover I have to do with that book is to put a more complicated view of what that book is about in the minds of my students their 20th century readers reading a 19th century. Man. Who thought of himself as fairly emancipated view of what life was like in the 17th century so that I think that yes you are. I mean I think it has to be read that way. And one of the fascinating things that you can talk about that happens in the book is The places where in fact Hawthorne seems to forget that Hester is a 17th century woman and turn Syria into a 19th century women's emancipation talk you
know gets her mixed up with Margaret Fuller instead of keeping her what she actually is that happens from time to time. Well when she was at this moment you know of one it's liberation and so forth a scarlet letter seems to me almost the only American book. With the possible exception of Uncle Tom's Cabin where you could talk about the problem of the position of women in our society the strange exclusion of the female from the positive center of American imagination and some attempt to break out of the house. I think that maybe one other although it's such a satirical novel it mightn't be included on your list and that's the Bostonians of Henry J. Yeah that's a very difficult indeed and what that homosexuals bachelor made of women in marriages and women's movements and so forth this is extremely complicated. It seems to me it's almost a novel about the degradation of the women's movement insofar as it deals with women's movement at all except that in such a
context of deterioration of moral confusion in the Merc Well it's a church which is almost always immediately levelled at the women's movement which lurks in the back of the book. They're all a bunch of dykes anyhow was pants back behind of the force and whose it is is lesbian isn't that coming pretty close to being explicit. In that book and there's a certain amount of truth. I mean lesbians attach themselves to the women's movement for their own ends the way at a certain point. Homosexuals like homosexuals attach themselves to the black liberation movement. To work out another kind of emancipation which which which really confuses the issues a great deal so that when you get a women's liberation movement you know tackling essentially lesbian points of view if they do still see a lot of reasons and some type or something where are you really. Leslie in your recent book being busted you're talking at one moment about.
The accusation that professors and I suppose especially professors of literature challenge the values of American society. In their classroom teaching and therefore encourage the young to reject those values and you go on to say this. It is not those who challenge but those who accept the values of our society who teach the young to reject them and they learn not in the classroom but at home who are by and large the marriages and marriages that produced them seem to work no better after a year or two than the shiny cars it took them to the Cub Scouts and little league. Well the psychiatrist who tinkered with the form and produced results was expensive and unsatisfactory as the mechanics who work on the ladder. Their instructors in sociology or literature perhaps helped the young to see all this or rather remove certain obstacles between them and seeing in the end however it is not the man who points but what he points to what is really there that makes the difference. Nonetheless you go on. Nonetheless. We are not
entirely innocent we professes the not guilty as charged. A kind of hypocrisy as well as a legitimate cause for complaint. Is this willingness to live high on the hog at the same moment we are writing on blackboards. All that is wrong with the world which sustains us and assigning great books which reveal the horror at its heart. Nor is this mitigated by the fact that our neighbors are also guilty of their own sort of hypocrisy by living in that horror and claiming to their children not merely that they do not know it but that it is not even present. We need each other to eliminate our complimentary self the seats. That's the end of the quotation from your book being busted. I mean. It's not clear what you have in mind when you speak of the hypocrisy of living well while we are riding on the blackboards all that is wrong with the world that. Sustains us. But I'm dealing with there let it be said. You know this is not an accusation which anybody has made against me but which I make against myself.
Which I read out of the situation as being implicit and I guess what I'm talking about is something like this. I've been teaching literature and universities for a long time now about 30 years and it has become clearer and clearer to me that the kind of books at least that I've been interested in teaching are books which blow up the value systems with which students often come to us and question very profoundly the things that they're taught are our most sacred is that all good books or good literary work. Well my own my own notion is that most good literary works do this at least implicitly if not explicitly. I once wrote an essay a long time ago much longer than this which was called No and thunder and the quotation I swiped from a letter that Melville wrote to Hawthorne in which he said all men who say yes why ranting at me about writing on authority says no and thundered and I was arguing in this essay that all literature says no to any kind of
society we see therefore it challenges whatever the establishment may be at any given moment. And in this I argue that it does this at least implicitly. I mean even if the ideas are not in themselves a verse a literary form with a special kind of profession it's utopian achievement is a criticism of the imperfection of the social and economic and family world around it at all times and so on and so forth but at any rate my own favorite writers have been writers like say Melville. Or I don't know just picking at random from all over the lot James Joyce Charles Dickens. All right people who have in various ways attempted to change the sensibility of their own time and therefore change the world but sensibility has created and who may not of course always be aware of what a sometimes stunning indictment they may have they may have made against James Henry James when
the first war broke out said words to this effect. This is what my novels have all been about and I did not happen all the time. Meaning I think is what he said Are you claiming that you know all the time. Yeah this is true but there are some writers of course are quite explicit in every once in a while it occurs to me you know what I'm saying to a class full of students repeating to them calling their attention to say the phrase no in Serbia and Joyce Joyce You know I will not a day or Bartleby the Scrivener as I would prefer not to write. Here I am teaching people how to parse a survey or to memorize I would prefer not to but in my very functioning inside of the university system as a teacher and as a relative beneficiary of a society which treats a lot of other people much more in justly it's kind of built in contradiction. Paradox You know I would say downright hypocrisy.
Some time you know here I am asking for myself the privileged position of being able to teach people these prophets of rebellion plagues Marriage of Heaven and Hell pick the most extreme example that you kept worrying when my paycheck isn't on time. You think that a professor of literature who skillfully and honestly discloses with his students in works of literature of these indictments of American society modern society modern man. You think that is that is itself in a way discharging a responsibility for the act but you think as a further so that responsibility. I'm not really talking about responsibility. Let me be quite clear to you that I have no intention whatsoever of giving all to the poor and leading the life of an aggregator or a monk or a devoted revolutionary activist. At this point in my life. On the other hand I
do feel attention all the time between my situation and what comes out of it the way in which the Professor of course every deems himself is but being willing. To run risks and side like that comfortable life running late at the present moment it may in fact turn out you know that I will have to live with that hypocrisy partly along these lines of a colleague of mine here at Yale has does it. It was a very very popular and impressive lecturer. Has now vowed never to give a lecture course again I'm thinking here of questions of literal teaching methods and in our hectic troubled times and because he says that he either would not or would refuse to get into contemporary social issues as echoing the issues of the work of literature being discussed or that if he did he feels he would make angry speeches
about and the speeches I may say against the young and their present involvement. How do you feel about you that he really feels that the. Almost this situation of the lecturer and today is a troubled one. Difficult for me. I want you I don't know the lecture lecture on the lecture of been in difficulties ever since I couldn't very well the question which was posed after the invention of printing and especially after it was widespread is a question of what is a lecture for anyhow. Isn't it much better to trust whatever material comes in. Like your two books and I suppose the answer traditionally has been that there is a kind of stimulus and response situation in a lecture which you don't get in a book that is a good lecture will be at every moment responding not dealing not just with the subject matter but with the audience which is before him.
The felt response of that audience to his subject line or his answer to that response to move on to the next thing. We live in a time when people are very fond again of large public occasions on which there is big public talk. But the difference between rapping and lecturing. Yes it is. It is considerable in some ways and yet there is. There ought to be. There ought to be a continuous line. I thought you know it's the worst possible situation for a lecture is not necessarily an adversary situation. I mean yes I know. Sometimes when hostility exists between the sort of initial hostility between a lecture and a nice talking to you can get you know a qualification of feelings on both sides which are nice and takes a certain kind of temperament to enjoy that though you know I know. And yeah well not everybody likes to do it and not everybody at any point should be. Lecturing. I think lectures ought to be. I was kind of an obligation for the lecturer to be more irreverent more vulgar funnier these
days and if he doesn't enjoy that then he might as well forget it. Do you yourself you yourself a large lecture classes in need of goading in need of. Well I had a funny experience I haven't met. Most of my life I've taught large lecture classes and in the 23 years that I was in Montana my colleagues used to refer to me disparagingly sometimes as a mass educator. Bad word for some of them because I was interested in teaching freshman chiefly and necessarily in large numbers using a combination of lecture and discussion around their traditional pattern of courses when I went to Buffalo Six years ago. I went strictly undergraduate teaching and taught classes of 12 or 14 people seminars with you know real cooperation at all times and collaboration and they have a new class this year partly out of a sense of missing
something myself. I went back to giving a large lecture class for the first time which is then broken up into sections of the head of which there are graduate assistants for my then run a graduate seminar. Dealing with with the same subject matter I found it baffling in many ways satisfactory and unsatisfactory. I like talking in a lecture. But it encourages a certain. Passive MITI. Yes you know in the group that's listening to you and the larger the group the smaller the attention span as oh well I don't know but if there is you see it isn't necessarily bad if they're really listening. This is something which if they find it even harder to do most people in the world I don't just mean students find it harder to do that talking. And if you really can get a large group of people who are listening they're having a learning experience which is worth a great deal. Yes they're truly paying attention. I think you're used the phrase adversary situation between lecturer
and students I think three thinking behind the remark I was quoting from this colleague is that. To a degree that really appalled him. The present relation between the teacher of literature and students is an adversary situation. Well I don't feel I did so myself because my own the direction of my own interest recently puts me in a favorable position in this regard I mean I've become more and more interested I have become more and more interested in pop as opposed to high art over this recent years. Fifteen years ago I wrote the first essay anybody of anybody literate ever wrote about comic books and I've been worried about them ever since. I'm now in a place where I can get a student doing an independent project you know producing a full scale book on a subject fascinating book. And mostly he's educating me at that point we've now reached but so I mean
I have found myself in the place where I've been cut off in that way. There are values which I have which I want to do and which indeed I will. But I don't I haven't had any trouble talking to my students about Plato's Symposium. We were talking about books. Have you noticed a certain kind of. I might almost call it a meditated teaching reflect being intellectually way on 17th century poetry medieval poetry is becoming less possible or less easy or less attractive to young students. But I guess I mean you know one of the things makes it hard for me to understand is the fact that I've been living now in a very large university where there's a small population that among the students is interested in everything so that people want to meditate on the 17th century in the presence of 10 students from 10 students who love it. Yes. Yeah.
And people who want it would rather talk about guerrilla warfare find students who want that and people would rather have a sensitivity session than talk at all do that. I mean it's let a thousand flowers bloom. I know that's of course true in any in any respectable university I must say my feeling the last two or three years has been severe deflection of intellectual interest and energy away from the study of books to something I will leave books. Books are in a funny situation now but people read a lot more than that we generally that some critics assume. I knew that Marshall McLuhan was wrong before I ever read him because when they were still kids of six and seven and eight years old I used to catch my my own children reading books in front of television because it would be on the reading books too because you have enough attention left over
those television shows to read a book into well enough attention left over from most books to watch television. Everyone put it there is one of the fascinating tendencies Nowadays I think is for young people to read not literature but Scripture that I haven't seen anybody speculate on very much but I've been speculating on it a lot. This is sick. I had occasion during this past summer to wander around in New Mexico to various communes one kind or another I never saw one without books. But it's more like a New England cottage than a library that is there are just a handful of holy books right. Not a big selection list. So the way you would have a say in the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. Now you find you know you can never tell what the IChing the Whole Earth Catalog perhaps or The Lord Of The Rings. Yes Herman has a macrobiotic cookbook and philosophical defense of it
almost anything but. And these books are read well but they're bred the way fundamentalists used to read the Old Testament or the New Testament. They're got by heart as the beautiful phrase right. I haven't seen this happen but I suspect that what's going to happen is people are going to learn to read moving their lips again because that's a proper way to read such a book and then we'll be back to where we were not so long ago. My grandfather could only read moving his lips because the only books he read were holy books. He said the words as a weapon and the sound lived here words were fuko it's a material and as they say Yep and in the material of the holy books. Unlike your grandfather's day the holy books really change almost annually now don't they or semiannually Well they change but so we've had a long life if you're thinking of the book the changes of the Ching or the new but in the book of the dead which is when Mike comes and goes Oh that's right. Let's last a long time you know not only in the fashions come and go
there's a strange way of reviving really an almost defunct author like him and I say suddenly getting him a new wave of popularity. Let me my mind jumps right around in a 360 degrees here as you know the economic situation of the University professor today is I suppose better that's ever been in the history of American education certainly better much better than it was 20 30 years ago. Yeah they want a place where professors in a more favorable position I believe is a Soviet Union phrase which compares more favorably to live average wait. What about the. So to speak the force of not only liberty were first professors so much as the academic community. I mean now the professorial community must begin to have campuses but do you think that academics are a force in American life. Well I think one of the things which has happened in my own lifetime as a teacher is that the the initiative for proposing new ideas
and for radically questioning things that have gone on are going on in the world has tended to pass in the universities from the faculty the student body and that what you get nowadays is a sense sometimes of the faculty pursuing. The students rather than vice versa. This seems to me to be absolutely inevitable. That is to say if you have a time of slow cultural change and continuity then what counts is memory and tradition history and the most important building on a campus is a library where the wisdom of the past is stored and the older you are the more you know the better position you are to say things that are important. If you live in a time of extremely rapid and discontinuous cultural change. Then memory is replaced by prophecy and orientation to the past by the future. We want the people who are put in charge of the libraries are now computer experts and not experts. I saw the same books and the people have less old luggage in their
carrying little luggage with them right. Crossing the frontier of eternity with no luggage except the eagle or whatever it is that mill the sun has to tend to be young people are in a better position to move fast into that territory. But I must say though in my experience that's only partly true. On the one hand it seems to me that students still need to be prodded into having. Ideas of any kind including new ones and on the other it seems to me that that a good number of. Important new ideas even new ideas about the educational structure come rather out of the student faculty discussions rather than purely from the student students themselves. Well it's true that some of the profits of the cultural revolution if you do indeed believe believe that there has been one are not only older people but academics and they say oh I don't know Marshall McLuhan or or or or Norman old brown or they might not have.
In another age and even Bucky Fuller ends up in the university one way or another I want to ask too though about the academic community being again meaning me versus as a as a body apart from their influence and the initiation of new ideas. When they have a kind of traits in themselves to put it most simply. Would a Joe McCarthy. Invade the academic community today as as easily as he did as he did in the early fifties. Well first of all not true that he ended the academic community easily. DS I think the academic community as it has got a bad name for a very good reason. I think a point of pride in the history of the academic community is the resistance of almost all colleges. Almost all the time to McCarthyism. I spent those years are not in a very small college in a presumably backward part of the United States Army not very
sophisticated in most people's opinion and. We resisted Absolutely. The whole thing. I think there is that kind of resistance. You know let me say favorable things about it. I think that the initial resistance of the war in Vietnam began on college campuses and certainly not a band with a faculty some of the faculty even before it reached the Senate and passed out of there. I think there's a long tradition of resistance among faculties but I think one of the one of the problems is that this takes us right back to where we began professors now have too much to lose. They have two biggest stakes in society. I think what's happened recently is that the rewards of the profession have got to be so good that becoming a university professor is a way of making it. As a society and the sons of the petty bourgeoisie and the working class poor
farmers and so forth who get into the university and make it don't want to lose it. The American University has caused people getting paid too high a psychological price for their Ph.D. and they get better and they can persuade you to what you do are really humiliating us that are hard to believe I think for people outside of the profession with the promise that trust on the other side of that. MARTIN There's a cosey of where they can be well rewarded you know and if they want to get away with never thinking again and teaching students and books with Leslie Fiedler professor of English at the University of Buffalo and Richard WB loise professor of English and American studies at Yale scripts for these programs are available without charge by writing to Yale reports 1773 Yale station New Haven Connecticut 0 6 5 2 0. This program originates in Yale's audio visual center. NPR's special of the week Thanks Yale University for the recording of this
program. This is any are the national educational radio network.
Special of the week
Issue 44-70
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-5q4rp72f).
No description available
Public Affairs
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-SPWK-498 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00?
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 44-70,” 1970-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 23, 2024,
MLA: “Special of the week; Issue 44-70.” 1970-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <>.
APA: Special of the week; Issue 44-70. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from